By now, you have (hopefully) read the game recap and probably have seen the replays on CBS. With the Buckeyes starting to pull away from Michigan in the second half of a Big Ten tournament semifinal game, Jordan Morgan and Jared Sullinger got tangled up with each other and a minor scuffle ensued.
No punches were thrown, but it was William Buford to the rescue for Sullinger. Aside from a little shove from Morgan to the Buckeye and a few words that were exchanged, nothing was passed between the opponents.
Was the play in itself a huge deal? No, and head coach Thad Matta made a point to mention that in the locker room after the game. What was important was the message it sent, however: mess with one of us, and you mess with all of us.
This is also a huge reflection of how far Buford has come as a team leader. It is hard to imagine the freshman or sophomore incarnations of the Toledo native drawing a line in the sand like he did against the Wolverines.
I have written time and time again this year that this team is unusually close. Closeness is a tough factor to define and even harder to write about. It's more about a feeling you get from constant interaction with a group of people over a sustained period of time.
In a few quick seconds Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, we all got to see what we have been talking about all season. This is one tight-knit group, and win or lose that is a credit to what Matta has been able to assemble in Columbus.
I think … that in addition to his confrontation with the Wolverines, Buford's performance as the game went on was a huge boost for the Buckeyes.
Yesterday, the junior looked like his game was not even in the same area code as Conseco Fieldhouse as he struggled in nearly every aspect on the court. His shot was way off and his ability to catch passes seemed suspect at best. As a result, he became somewhat of a non-factor offensively.
After the game, Buford told me that his performance started to bother him mentally. The confidence that had been there for the Big Ten season was not there, and having Buford as an unproductive member of the team is a sure ticket to an early out in the NCAA Tournament.
So when he opened up the game 1 for 4 from the field, I had to wonder if it would continue to eat at him mentally like it had one day before. It turns out I needn't have worried, as he went 6 for 10 the rest of the way.
Another example of the growth Buford continues to show.
I think … that it goes without saying that this was a big day for Jordan Sibert.
As he was thrust into first-half action when David Lighty and Aaron Craft were each relegated to the bench with two fouls, I started flipping through the media guide in an effort to remember the last time he had seen meaningful minutes. My conclusion was that if he has at any point this season, it did not come in Big Ten play.
To come in with 9:46 remaining in the first half and his team holding a four-point lead and seamlessly fit into the plan was a major boost for this team. Simply playing well would have been good enough, but his steal near midcourt and ensuing two-handed slam dunk put the exclamation point on top of the performance.
I think … that Dallas Lauderdale's performance following the scuffle should not be overlooked.
The big man came off the bench to give Sullinger his first break of the tournament and quickly swatted two Michigan shots while also being active in the paint. It marked his first minutes in the tournament aside from the four-or-so typically guaranteed to him by way of his starting spot.
Lauderdale took it personally that Sullinger was caught up in the situation and made sure that the Buckeyes did not lose a beat when the freshman caught a breather.